Mission Accomplished, despite an uncooperative hip

Well, as they say in the military, “Mission Accomplished”. As I have done in past years on the Sunday before Memorial Day, I stood in front of St. Dominic Catholic Church at the corner of Van Aken Boulevard and Norwood Road in Shaker Heights, waving to cars as they went by, some presumably heading to the 11 o’clock  mass. Many drivers gave me several friendly beeps of their horn indicating their approval of my peace message while wearing my 56-year-old embarrassingly-tight U.S. Army dress uniform and holding a peace flag. A driver of a white car gave me one very brief beep of the horn and I thought, “Well, that’s better than nothing”.

Shortly after I began my peace gig, a man approached and  said, “Hello, Lou”.  It was Jim Kooser, a longtime friend and supporter of my peace message. A member of St. Dominic Parish, Jim is a musician performing during mass. He asked how I was and I said, “My right hip is talking back to me” and he said, “Well, you do have a few years on it.” (Thanks for that, Jim. Jeepers!!) I told him I was going to the Wade Park VA Medical Center next week to start physical therapy. Jim complimented me on my appearance in uniform and I said, “I’m sucking in my gut as we speak. I really don’t need a belt to hold these pants up.” He laughed. I told Jim some people might not like my presence, but I said, “At least I give them something to think about and an image they will not soon–if ever–forget.” He agreed, then excused himself to head into church. A few people walking by did not respond to my friendly “Good morning!” or “Hi”. Maybe they were deaf. Well, probably not. Some walking by thanked me for my service and I said, “Wasn’t my idea. I got drafted. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do.” They understood. 

A few minutes later, a beautiful shiny black car on Norwood about to turn onto Van Aken stopped and the driver–much to my very pleasant surprise–was Leon Bibb, a highly respected and I dare say beloved long-time reporter for WKYC Channel 3, the NBC television affiliate in Cleveland. We have walked side by side in at least two Shaker Heights Memorial Day parades in the past after he gave a speech in front of Shaker’s city hall. (Leon lives on Norwood Road, not far from St. Dominic’s.) Leon said, “Are you going to be in the parade tomorrow?” And I said, “No. My right hip is killing me. But I’ll be going to the VA for physical therapy.” He said he wasn’t going to be in the parade either, nor give a speech. I think he said he has problems with his feet.

Leon also is a Vietnam veteran, having served  with an artillery unit of the Fourth Infantry Division. Like me, his basic training was at Fort Benning, Georgia, beginning a few months after me in 1966. Here is a big difference, though. The military flew Leon and other future soldiers to Georgia in October, 1966 while I traveled to Georgia on a “troop train” a few months earlier that began its woeful journey in the bowels of Terminal Tower.

After mass began I started to gamely hobble back to my car. I said to a couple heading to church, “The world needs more peace, doncha think?” The woman emphatically said, “ABSOLUTELY!!” Her husband said nothing. He might be a former Marine.  Marines–former and on active duty–generally speaking, have given me the most grief over the years. On one occasion a “gentleman” who had seen my peace flag earlier took issue with me after identifying himself as a Marine while we waited for a Blue Line Rapid ride in Tower City. He fingered a couple of the six medals attached to the left breast pocket of my vintage 1966 Army field jacket and said, “Sir, you do not deserve those medals.” I said, “My commanding officer had a different opinion.”  When we boarded the rapid, he and his lady friend sat a few seats ahead of me. When he turned around to say something critical to me, I’m sure, I gave him the peace sign. His visceral reaction roughly approximated that of Dracula when confronted with a crucifix, as the Marine loudly said, “FUCK YOU!!”. I replied, “Nice talk.” Later in  the ride the “gentleman” called me an “old man” Of all the nerve! Only my right hip is old.

After a Shaker Heights Memorial Day Parade several years ago, a young active-duty Marine in his dress uniform was not happy with my presence, but we had a pleasant conversation along Van Aken Boulevard.  At the end of our chat he said, “No one wants peace more than I do.” I said, “If that’s true, then why do you have a problem with my peace flag?” He said nothing, turned and walked away.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.